Share the wealth (resources) on short term trips.

short-term-missions-001The other day I mentioned the problems that arise when mission teams bring in materials and resources that aren’t available to the Christians in their host church.

This is especially true with kids classes. We want to shower them with candy and gifts. We want to wow them with slick presentations and elaborate classes.

But what happens when we leave? What about the Bible teacher the following Sunday who has no candy to give, no toys to distribute, no videos to show, and no costumes for acting out Bible stories? Is it really fair to them?

To me, the solution is fairly simple and not too expensive. Whatever materials you bring, bring at least three times more than what you will use. Or only use a quarter of what you bring. Leave the rest with the local church to be used at a future date.

Now the wow factor can last longer, the local teachers gain credibility, and your mission team is solving problems rather than creating them.

This doesn’t just go for Bible class materials. We need to think of creative ways to share the credit with our hosts, edifying the church we visit, creating further opportunities for ministry after we’re gone.

The one-to-one rule in missions funding

short-term-fundingOne of the great controversies regarding short-term missions is the impact they have on the funding of long-term works. As the amount of money given to short-term missions grows, that given to long-term works shrinks. But coincidence doesn’t mean causality; just because two things happen at the same time doesn’t mean one causes the other.

Churches that do short-term missions need to make a special effort to make certain those funds aren’t taken from support that would go to long-term works. In her famous article “Short Term Missions: Are they worth the cost?“, Jo Ann Van Engen suggests:

One good rule of thumb for short-term missions is to spend at least as much money supporting the projects you visit as you spend on your trip. Invest your money people and organizations working on long-term solutions. If you are interested in evangelism, support nationals who want to share the gospel. If you are concerned about the health issues, support programs that are seeking to address those problems. Better yet, find programs that minister to people wholistically by meeting their spiritual, physical, social, emotional, and economic needs.

I think the one-to-one rule is great. I’d put it this way: spend as much money on the long-term work in the place you’re going as you do on sending short-term workers. If you are spending $20,000 to take a team to Buenos Aires, give $20,000 to the long-term workers there.

But that makes short-term missions too expensive!” Well, that’s kind of the point. Not to make those trips more expensive, but to make sure that the funding for those trips isn’t coming from funds that would be available to long-term workers. If your mission trip is that important, take the funds from your building maintenance funds, from your Sunday doughnut budget, or some other part of the budget.

Let’s make sure that short-term works and long-term works aren’t competing with one another for funding. The one-to-one rule will do just that.

Barbies, missions, and satire

I admittedly have concerns about short-term mission trips. They’re not all bad, but they’re not all good, either. And I think they proportion of church funds spent on short-term trips vs. long-term works is WAY out of balance. We need to be funding permanent works at a much higher rate. Keep the short-term if you will, just up your long-term investments proportionally.

White Barbie Savior is an Instagram account that uses humor to address some concerns about mission trips, particularly orphanage volunteering. If you browse through the photos, read the hashtags to be sure you get the point.

Now the people behind that satirical brilliance have a blog to further their message. You can find there work at

Besides the message, what do you think of the medium? Is the point lost in the humor? Or are they effectively making a point with Barbie dolls?

They don’t need what you say they need

Hand_holding_a_red_fundraising_boxI’ve probably been guilty of the same. I’ll say that up front. But I’m tired of reading where ministries are raising money for what they say people in Cuba are asking for. No, they’re not asking for sewing machines. No, they’re not asking for solar-powered listening devices. No, they’re not asking for baptismal garments.

Of course, if you ask them if they could use those things or just about anything else, they’ll say yes. People who lack many basic goods will accept almost anything offered to them for free. But that’s not grounds for saying that they are asking for those things.

And this isn’t just Cuba. Cuba is merely the situation that I know best. It’s also a unique situation, with there not having been U.S. missionaries living there for over 50 years. I can speak to their situation. Others can describe what goes on in other places.

Here’s a thought: what if we asked people what they need? Asked them to prioritize the most important things? Maybe if we let them come up with the ideas, we’d be able to provide things they really need. Instead of the things we want to provide.

Modernity, order, and the church

Transforming Worldviews book coverUsing ideas from Paul Hiebert’s Transforming Worldviews, we talked the last time I wrote about how modernity led the Western church to obsess about time and punctuality. Along the same lines, Western churches often emphasize cleanliness and order.

Hiebert observes about modernity in general:

Cleanliness in modernity is defined primarily in terms of high order: of keeping categories uniform. Flowers in the grass are weeds, earth on the sidewalk is dirt, and spoons in the fork bin are out of place. Categories must also be clearly bounded. Pictures, windows, and doors should have frames setting them off, cracks in the wall should be fixed or covered by moldings, and floors should be differentiated from walls by baseboards. Wherever categories meet, the boundary must be marked to keep the distinctions clear. (Kindle location 3392)

He mentions, as an example, how roads are clearly defined in societies influences by modernity. There is a clear demarcation as to what is road and what isn’t. In many societies, the road is part of the surrounding area; a path is a suggestion as to where to walk, not the only allowable walking space. (You see this tension in many developing nations, where lanes are clearly marked on roads, but those markings mean little to nothing to local drivers)

Hiebert then observes about the church:

In the church, too, cleanliness is of high value. Sanctuaries, dress, and the order of rituals must be clean and proper. We see this emphasis in the tension between relationships and cleanliness. If long-unseen friends appear at church, do we invite them to our home for lunch, although our house is dirty because we left in a hurry, or do we greet them and invite them to our house on another day, after we have had time to clean it? In many cases we do the next best thing, in terms of relationships: we invite them out to a restaurant dinner! (Kindle location 3396)

Where this becomes especially harmful is in missions situations. Missionaries see their way, modernity’s way, as the right way; it’s very difficult for them to give control to people not bound by the same notions of cleanliness and order. Hiebert says:

(Western missionaries) have tried to teach people to be on time; to construct straight walls; to paint without slopping on the window sills; to keep buildings clean; to plan for future activities; to keep accurate minutes and straight accounts; to stand in line; to maintain sharp borders on paths and roads; and to keep books, medicines, and other supplies in order on shelves. Their fear of chaos has often been a hindrance to turning work over to the nationals. They have been afraid that hospitals would become dirty, schools unorganized, churches disorderly, accounts irregular, and the order of the church chaotic if things are controlled by the local people. Moreover this distrust of the local people has undermined the missionaries’ credibility among them. (Kindle location 3414)

And these attitudes don’t go unnoticed by locals:

Christians in other lands are often confused by the Western obsession with order and Westerners’ lack of relational skills. Westerners rarely open their homes spontaneously to visitors. They are more interested in keeping possessions than in sharing them. They are often too busy doing things to take time just to sit and visit. For Christians in many non-Western societies, the central issue in Christianity is not right order but right relationships. The gospel to them is good news because it speaks of shalom—of a community in which harmonious relationships value human dignity, justice, love, peace, and concern for the lost and the marginalized. (Kindle location 3427)

All of this is very interesting to me because of how I’ve seen these things play out in me, in other missionaries, and in churches I’ve been around through the years. I marvel again at the obsession so many Christians my age have with resisting postmodernism while fully embracing the influence of modernity as if it were gospel.

Have you seen any of this?